God is a library

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Can you ever really know God?

It’d be like  going into a library, chatting to the librarian for a few moments and thinking that you’d got the whole place sussed.

But there’s all these books, hundreds and hundreds of them, stretching away in every direction, each revealing more.

No, there’s always going to be more to know and always unanswered questions. Right now, as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13, “We know in part...”

But what CAN we know now?  An interesting answer is given in Deuteronomy that reads thus:

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29)

Sure, God will remain a library, so to speak, “but the things revealed belong to us.” Maybe we are on a “need-to-know” basis, like some agent in a spy film, that we are given enough information to do the job at hand. And what’s the job at hand? According to this verse, I guess, it’s simply  tofollow all the words of this law.”

There’s some fictional bear from my childhood (I can’t recall whether it was Paddington, Pooh or Yogi) who was described as “a bear of very small brain.”  And even the information he received  made him muddled and confused. Well, if that describes you (and it certainly describes me) there’s no wonder that God has a “Restricted Section” in his library.

I just couldn’t handle it.

And that’s how God answers Job (in Job 38:4). “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.”  This stuff is just beyond you. It’s silly to pretend that you can sort it all out in your little peanut-sized bonce.

And maybe -just maybe- the stuff that is beyond our capacity to understand includes times of suffering, pain, trial, loss, timing, “natural disasters,” war, famine, choice of Foreign Secretary… The list may prove extensive.

But there is good news.

When you describe God as a library, you are emphasising the quantitative scale of God’s knowledge, and that’s perfectly correct, but the Bible also uses the word “know” in an inimate, relational way – it’s a qualitative term.

And the Bible encourages us again and again not to worry too much about engaging in a fact-finding tour of the Almighty (which is rather like approaching the ocean with a spoon to see how deep it goes), but to seek relationship.

This is how Jesus puts it (Matthew 11:25-30):

“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Sometimes children figure things out much more quickly than adults. Perhaps that doesn’t include experimental Calculus formation (though my wife informs me that most Mathematical breakthrough was done from logic and first principles, tracng patterns with a stick in the sand. As Humphrey Bogart might have said: “Here’s looking at Euclid”).

But it’s true, sometimes children are quicker on the uptake.  They may not have the quantity of knowledge but they work instincively, qualititatively, and get the point. They undestand about love, generosity, equality, trust, and fairness. And this is the real deal,the real beating heart-centre of what it is to follow Christ.

It’s all you need to know to follow the Lord.

Two Gospel stories spring to mind. First, in Luke 8, there’s the familiar story with those two interwoven miracles: the miracle of the woman with bleeding, followed by the Jairus’ daughter getting back to life from death. The incident goes on like this – Jairus the synagogue ruler’s twelve-year old girl was dying and so Jairus came to Jesus pleading him to come home so he could touch and she could live. On their way to the house, a woman with twelve years of bleeding touched the cloak of Jesus and she got healed. There was consequently a time delay in getting to Jairus’ home and as a result servants came running to declare the daughter dead and not to disturb the Master.

And then Jesus spoke into the silence. He spoke words that changed everything. He didn’t offer rational explanation or scientific knowledge. He simply looked at Jairus and said “Don’t be afraid, but believe.”  As the story continued, Jesus went home and brought the girl back to life. But he challenged Jairus, just as he challenges us, not to understand, but to trust.

The second story is in John 4. The chapter is well-known for the story of the “Woman at the Well,” but the story which follows it has something massive to say which mustn’t be missed. Here is another desperate father who heard that Jesus was in town. He grabbed the opportunity to request that Jesus came and heal his beloved son who was at the point of death. Jesus simply looked at the man and said, “Go, your son will live.” The man took Jesus at His word and went away. The good news is the son got well at the same moment when Jesus said he would live. The servants ran to meet the man not with the bad news but with the good news that his son was alive.

In one story, servants came to say the girl was dead and Jesus decided he would go anyway, but here Jesus simply spoke the word and healing took place.

But in both cases, Jesus challenges the caring parent to trust Him. “Only believe.” “Be it done to you according to your faith.” What I’m saying here is that there will always be “secret things [that] belong to the LORD our God”  but we are called to walk by faith, not by sight, or knowledge. We are called to walk like Jairus, trusting that despite any frustrating delay, so long as we stay with Jesus, everything is going to be alright.

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